The number of fashion designers who have been canonised by museum institutions is not a big one, and amongst those, only a lucky few are revered enough to warrant their own exhibitions. This month however, the fledgling bi-coastal based label Eckhaus Latta joins those ranks with opening of its first solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of Art. This is not just an achievement in itself, ‘Eckhaus Latta: Possessed’ is also the museum’s first show dedicated to fashion in 21 years, further sealing its stamp of approval.

Portrait image of Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta

Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta. Photographed inside their exhibition ‘Eckhaus Latta: Possessed’ on August 2, 2018 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Photography: Thomas McCarty

‘Possessed’ presents the work of Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta, who founded their label in 2011 and have become known for their alternative and experimental approach to conventional fashion. Straddling both art, design and fashion, the label has challenged industry standards with its gender-fluid silhouettes, creative use of materials and incorporation of video and performance into its output – which often includes collaborations with musicians, artists and other creatives.

For the exhibition, the duo has created a three-part experience that touches on the notions of consumption, desire and collaboration. The exhibition kicks off at the gallery’s entrance, where photographs which nod to iconic fashion advertising fill a series of lightboxes. This then progresses into a fully-working retail installation, where fashion and accessory pieces made especially for the exhibition can be touched, tried on and even bought.

‘We made socks, sunglasses and tote bags for the first time and we also used upcycled t-shirts and sweatshirts to keep the price affordable,’ explains Zoe Latta of the special offering. ‘Additionally, we experimented with new mediums such as handpainting suiting fabric, plastic bags, beads (of many kinds in many ways) and played with the application of them. We also made exclusive prints and washes for some classic EL styles, the lapped t-shirts and jeans, [and] an elaborated collection of jewellery with my dad, Jay Latta, based on styles we’ve made with him in the past.’

In contrast to typical fashion exhibitions, the design of this space demands that viewers get up close to the garments on offer. Even the design and structural aspects in this part of the show – dressing rooms, clothing racks and display shelves – are worth a second look; they’ve been created by over a dozen artists and designers that are all friends of the label, including Susan Cianciolo, Lauren Davis Fisher and Matthew Lutz-Kinoy.

‘Working with the artists was such a fun and exciting experience, all of them contributed in their own language and made what they felt inspired to make, yet it all sits together in a way that we’re incredibly happy with,’ explains Latta.

The exhibition’s final component comes in the form of a replica of a security office – a rarely exposed facet of the retail experience, where footage from the label’s Los Angeles store, its other retailers and also a livestream of the exhibition itself add a voyeuristic, parting note to the show.

Latta sums up, ‘We never really work with inspiration images or references so we create collections, including this one, in a more compositional manner. One idea happens and the next idea considers that one and so on and so forth. In that respect, creating this exhibition and the collection for this show was pretty much the same form of working.’